Lonely Planet named Singapore its top country destination for 2015. An island known as a little red dot on the world map, Singapore has less than 5.5 million people.
But when it comes to tourism, Singapore punches above its weight, with nearly 14 million tourists visiting the island in the first eleven months of 2014. And as a result of a long-term plan by the Singapore government, many of them come for the food.
That food includes meals for about $5 that can be found in Singapore’s famous hawker centers, sprawling compounds made up of about 100 stalls under one roof. That’s where so-called auntie and uncle food vendors serve Singapore’s famous street food, a mix of Chinese, Indian, Malay and Indonesian dishes.
You can find many versions of chicken rice, considered one of Singapore’s national dishes, which features steamed or blanched white bird meat. You can also find chili crab, a well-loved seafood dish stir-fried in a tomato and chili-based sauce, and rojak, fried dough that has been grilled over charcoal.
When the government of Singapore decided to make culinary training a centerpiece of its plan to turn the island into a world-class tourist destination, it invited the Culinary Institute of America to open its first international branch on the island. Four years ago, Managing Director Eve Felder moved to Singapore with her family to set up the program — around the same time that celebrity chefs like Wolfgang Puck and Mario Batali also arrived.
Felder says the culinary institute’s Singapore program features the same curriculum as its other branches in the U.S., which teach students to prepare classical cuisine in the European tradition. The basic techniques used in preparing world-class cuisine are the same whether you’re making a beef bourguignon or a curry, she says.
“Part of our being here is to professionalize and teach the whys of cooking, so it’s not haphazard,” Felder says.” The whys are all the same. The difference is in the flavor profiles.”
Those flavor profiles run the gamut from learning to prepare Asia’s classic dishes to making pastry cream. One morning in January, 19 students wearing chef’s aprons and tall white hats gather in the institute’s pastry kitchen. Teacher Yvonne Ruperti lines up the ingredients for mixing pastry cream. “Pastry and baking” is part of the institute’s 18-month course.